Niagara MPP Calls on Ontario’s Minister of Muncipal Affairs, Ombudsman’s Office For Full Investigation of Regional Government’s “Attack on Press”

A News Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper

Posted December 8th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster in Ontario legislature. File photo

Niagara, Ontario – Welland Riding MPP Cindy Forster has called on Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro and the province’s Office of the Ombudsman to conduct an investigation into the circumstances surround the Niagara regional government’s seizure of notes and a lap-top computer belonging to a St. Catharines Standard reporter before ordering the reporter out of the regional headquarters this December 7th. .

“Ms. Forster is asking the Minister of Municipal Affairs to investigate this unwarranted attack on the press by the Regional Municipality of Niagara last night,” says a statement emailed to Niagara At Large in the wake of the incident involving Standard reporter Bill Sawchuk.

Sawchuk was covering a regional council meeting this December 7th when the council voted to go into closed session to discuss some questions to do with code of contact complaints filed against St. Catharines regional councillor Andy Petrowski.

Assuming that the closed session would not last very long, Sawchuk left his lap-top computer on a media table in the council chambers, only to learn that it was seized by regional representatives on suspicion that the reporter may have left it there to surreptitiously record the discussion taking place behind closed doors. Niagara Regional Police then arrived and Sawchuk was ordered to leave the regional headquarters without his notes and computer.

All of this unfolded as members of the public and another reporter from Niagara At Large stood in the lobby of the Niagara regional headquarters looking on while the council continued their meeting behind closed doors. Sawchuk insisted all along that he had no intentions of recording the meeting and that his computer  was an older model that did not have the capacity to do something like that anyway.

Veteran St. Catharines Standard reporter Bill Suachuck, at right, being ordered out of Niagara’s regional government headquarters after his notes and computer were seized.

According to a December 8th story in The Standard, the notes and computer were returned after Doug Richardson, a lawyer for the newspaper, called regional representatives. Richardson was quoted in the story saying; “Council had no legal authority to seize a reporter’s computer and notes. Council’s actins are a serious ingringement of constitutionally protected  freedom of the press and should be of concern to anyone who values the important role the media has in a free democracy.”

Standard editor-in-chief Angus Scott called the incident “an unwarranted attack on the free press and the pubic it served.”

Several Niagara area residents who contacted Niagara At Large this December 8th say they view the incident as the most grevious example yet of a type of bully-like behaviour  this regional council, chaired by Al Caslin, has a record of employing on almost anyone in the community it views as a threat or obstacle to its political agenda. Some said they hope that this time, steps will be taken by one party or another to punish those at the regional headquarters  responsible for these actions.

In a statement it circulated this December 8th, Niagara’s regional government had the following to say

​“Last evening, during a meeting of Regional Council, Council elected to go into closed session to discuss a matter related to an identifiable individual and receive legal advice as permitted by the Municipal Act. 

Niagara regional headquarters in Thorold

During the closed session portion of the meeting, two electronic devices were located on the media table.  Both devices were “on” and one appeared to be recording. Making unauthorized recordings of closed sessions is not permitted.

In order to protect the confidentiality and integrity of the closed session where an identifiable individual and legal advice was being discussed, the meeting was halted, the devices were photographed and the Niagara Regional Police Service was called. 

On-site security and staff took possession of the two electronic devices from the area with the intention of turning them over to the police for investigation.  

After receiving assurances from the St. Catharines Standard’s legal counsel that their journalist, Bill Sawchuk, was not recording the closed session, the one device was returned. Niagara Region apologizes for this inconvenience caused to Mr. Sawchuk.

The Region takes this matter very seriously and will be reviewing its policy and protocols in order to prevent further incidents. As part of this review, the Region will be inviting local media to participate in this process.  

As of this morning, Niagara Region has provided the second device to the Niagara Regional Police Service for investigation.”

Niagara At Large has no information on who this second device belongs to or what the status of it was at the time this commentary was posted.

Stay tuned for more Niagara At Large posts on this issue.  

And while many of our readers, for fear of reprisals, have expressed reluctance to speak out about anything to do with Niagara’s regional government and the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority  where 10 members of the regional council sit on NPCA’s board, Niagara At Large continues to encourage you to share your views in the space below.

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space below the Bernie quote.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

For more news and commentary from Niagara At Large – an independent, alternative voice for our greater bi-national Niagara region – become a regular visitor and subscriber to NAL at www.niagaraatlarge.com .

 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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